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Ovi Symposium; Fortieth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Fortieth Meeting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-12-07 01:45:08
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Fortieth Meeting: 4 December 2014

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 40: Out of Africa: from Homo Sapiens to the New Human.

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Aquinas, Eco, Galileo, Bruno, Darwin, Da Vinci, De Lubac, Origen, Vico, Francis of Assisi, Nietzsche, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Silone, Aristotle, Plato, Malema, Botha, Fugard, Mchola, Nyezwa, Mbeki, Ramaphosa, Hani, Madonsela, Gordimer, Coetzee.

Table of Contents for the 40th Session of the Ovi Symposium (4 December 2014)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Back to the Future: Out of Africa, from Homo Sapiens to the New Human in De Chardin’s and Berry’s Thought”. A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 2: “What is Africa to Humankind, and Why are we Here?” A presentation by Abigail George.

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In this 40th meeting of the Ovi Symposium we are going back to the future, so to speak; back to the origins of humankind’s journey on Earth, a journey out of Africa. If man is his own history, a return to origins is essential to preserve his identity as a human being. Indeed, to forget one’s history is like losing one’s memory and one’s self with it.

We will start with a presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella dealing with sundry philosophical theories derived from the thought of Darwin, Nietzsche, De Lubac, but especially that of Theilard De Chardin and Thomas Berry, as expressed in De Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, and The Divine Milieu, and in Berry’s Dream of the Earth, and The Great Story. De Chardin and Berry’s  minds are thoroughly immersed in Humanism, or the notion that the human being is not only the apex of a material cosmic evolution of the universe but it will also in the future be the apex of a spiritual evolution which De Chardin calls the Omega Point, the very telos or purpose sought by philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. In the beginning, which is spiritual, there is the end contrary to materialistic positivists wish to proclaim.

A complementary presentation by Abigail George follows in section two, gifting the reader with some poetical thoughts on the meaning of Africa as the very place where mankind originated, and then some existential considerations of what it means to be a writer and a poet in modern Africa and to come from the kind of  family one was destined for. In the process of this literary narration Abigail asks the crucial question of the meaning and destiny of life.

Surely such poignant reflections will resonate with most Ovi readers. We cordially invite their comments and suggestions, even a critique or a dialogue via comment section, for after all a symposium is a friendly discussion open to anybody who wishes to participate. 

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1

Back to the Future:
Out of Africa: from Homo Sapiens to the New Human
in De Chardin’s and Berry’s Thought
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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The Journey out of Africa

Some scholars consider Teilhard De Chardin none other than the greatest of modern Christian humanists, and with good reasons. For indeed De Chardin is the thinker/scientist who more than any other within modernity confronted the ongoing and open-ended process of evolution, which some positivists had seen as the final proof of the irrelevance of Man in the cosmos, to place Man right back into the center of the picture. Whether or not such an interpretation is a distortion of Darwin himself, the fact remains that De Chardin reaffirms value and quality within a positivistic science dedicated to quantifying and measuring and reducing Man to a mere function in a mechanistic machine called the cosmos. The ancient Greeks, for examples, detected an intelligent (the nous) behind the orderliness and the beauty of the cosmos, with which positivists dispense, given that accepting would also mean acceptance of God’s intelligence and purpose in creating; but in reality the Greek position is more logical and coherent since on orderliness ever proceeds out of chaos and to find a watch in the street and affirm that it created itself and it has no maker is an illogical non sequitur.

De Chardin, on the other hand, has a genial intuition which has global universal implications, elaborates it into a scientific mystique of sort, and, not unlike Pascal, gambles on it. The intuition is this: God needs Man, since without Man God's creative plan cannot be fulfilled. Umberto Eco who was one of my professors at Yale University in the late 70s, would like us to think that he is the first with this insight of "God's need for Man," but as somebody who wrote a dissertation on Thomas Aquinas and considers himself post-modern and post-Christian, he ought to know better. For the idea is as old as Aquinas and as modern as De Chardin: it is indeed novantiqua. Both thinkers affirm that without Man God's face cannot be fully manifest in his evolving creation. For De Chardin Man is the locus of the divine epiphany. For in Man the universe has become conscious of itself.

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Theilard De Chardin (1881-1955)

At first, the official Catholic Church looked unfavorably upon De Chardin’s doctrine. In so doing if failed to perceive (as it had failed with Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno) that the doctrine more than being a challenge to Christian theological thought, was a challenge to scientific positivism and its Cartesian underpinnings; it was a challenge even to Darwin’s theory of evolution based on purely positivistic premises. As it turned out, scientists were better predisposed and more friendly toward De Chardin's doctrine than the theologians who saw him as some kind of theological revolutionary. And so paradoxically it was the Church's opposition and censorship which conferred on De Chardin the aura of a charismatic authority championing those who were fed up with indexes and imprimaturs and inquisitions, those abuses which lent credence to those who had an ax to grind against religion in general and Christianity in particular and whose mind-set predisposed them to throw out the baby (religion, or Faith) with the dirty bathwater (the abuses and corruptions of religion).

The fact is that De Chardin, just like Da Vinci, has a dual intellectual identity: he was both a first rate theologian-philosopher and a first rate paleontologist, just as Da Vinci was both a first rate artist and a first rate scientist. Henri De Lubac wrote what could be considered the summa of De Chardin's spiritual doctrine: the book Le pensée religieuse de Theilhard De Chardin which was infelicitously translated in English as The Religion of Teilhard De Chardin, seeming to suggest that De Chardin devised his own brand of Christianity, thus playing into the hands of his detractors.

In any case, De Lubac was eminently qualified to examine De Chardin's religious thinking. He was a bona fide Catholic theologian whose specialization was the origins of Christian Humanism beginning with Origen, the Greek Fathers, all the way to Thomas Aquinas. De Lubac points out that in De Chardin you have a providential combination of the scientific and the mystic; almost a novelty at the time. Even his humanism is quite orthodox in the sense that he has made Man once again the center of the universe, not just spatially or metaphorically but "structurally." For De Chardin, not only religion but science itself confirms that "Man is the greatest telluric and biological event of our planet; the supreme achievement of the organizing power of the cosmos." Which is to say that Man is none other than the key to the solution of the puzzle that is the whole of nature.

Neither De Chardin nor De Lubac knew Vico, but had they known him they would have more than welcomed Vico's constant insistence that "self-knowledge" was not only the key to Man but also the key to nature; which is to say, knowledge of Man to himself, man narrating to himself his own story as he develops cosmologically and historically from the Big Bang to today. Man is his own history. Indeed Francis of Assisi had it right all along when he affirms that the sun is literally our brother (see his poem "The Canticle of Brother Sun" which is learned by every grammar school child in Italy and is none other than the cornerstone of post-medieval Italian humanism). To know Man and his historical evolution is to know everything. This is De Chardin's (and Vico's) great challenge to scientific positivism. This is science that unlike positivism has not forgotten its humanistic roots and keeps well in mind that knowledge of anything about man and the universe needs to begin at the origins of whatever is being studies. Given that humankind seems to be on a journey the question “where does that journey begin” becomes a crucial question. One can postulate a garden of Eden, supposedly existing in Mesopotamia some place but historically and empirically speaking the garden that man left is the continent of Africa, which is the home of the whole of humankind.

There is another crucial question: What are the practical consequences of this incarnational cosmogony of Theilhard De Chardin for a modern Christian culture, even a culture that considers itself post-Christian? The answer can be found in De Chardin's The Divine Melieu. In that work De Chardin announces that Man is presently at a crucial point of evolutionary change. He compares it to the point Man was at a million or so years ago when human consciousness broke through and Man ceased to be an ape. De Chardin tells us that we are about to enter a "collective super consciousness," a higher civilization with characteristics which are definitely spiritual.

Here we hear echoes of Nietzsche's Superman, the kind of man which will make the present Man look like an ape in comparison, although Nietzsche misguidedly rejects Christianity as a catalyst to a more spiritual man and brands it as the religion of the weak thus replacing the quest for truth with the quest for power. In any case, within the Christian tradition this can be defined as an "eschatological event," but De Chardin prefers to call it "history about to face the transcendent." Transcendence and immanence seems to coalesce here. Here again we have unmistakable echoes of Vico's concept of Providence which encompasses at the same time both transcendence and immanence. They are not "either or" as rigorous Cartesian logic would dictate, but "both and." De Chardin would further declare that we are entering into the "planetization of mankind," as Man is now ready for "totalization" as a collective task; which is to say, the use of science and technology to humanize and spiritualize matter, thus preparing it for the advent of Christ. This is of course what Christendom has traditionally called "The Parousia." In more secular terms we now talk of "globalization."

From the above it is pretty obvious that this "New Theilhardian Man" is gambling all on the future. Even the H bomb is seen by De Chardin as a manisfestation of the "dawn of Christic neo-energy." In the face of this future oriented theology we are confronted with a perplexity. Where in this kind of futuristic philosophy, redolent of Hegelian philosophy (which considers the final synthesis as necessary and the best of all possibilities), the pondering on the genocide which arrived in the middle of the 20th century, i.e., the Holocaust? Which is to say: is this a valid extrapolation of Bible eschatology? Is it still possible for Man to forfeit his humanity for a plate of lentils? For if it is not, then his freedom becomes problematic as Kierkegaard powerfully suggested in his critique of Hegel. Or is this process inevitable and pre-determined. And if so, where is Man's freedom here? How is he then a co-creator with God?

Moreover, not many people know that De Chardin in 1951 saw the marching of Mao's armies toward Peking as the vanguard of a new humanity. Should this give us some pause, just as Heidegger's adherence to the Nazi party for some nine months ought to give us pause regarding his philosophy of Being? Is everything really in the bag, so to speak? To be even more outrageous in this critique, is De Chardin confusing a super consciousness that reflects the Mystical Christ with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat?

De Chardin himself seems to offer a corrective to this impasse at one point of his Milieu when he speaks of a "Great Option," thus living some room to the individual man and his inherent freedom to achieve what he calls "the transfiguration of the immensity of the world into a center of loving energy and produce the total Christ." But here too one hears echoes of Hegel, when he talks of "a refusal to progression," or of "Faustian individualism fixed on selfish interests." In other words, this progress seems to be all but inevitable, there are no real regressions or steps backward. As in Hegel, the whole process will succeed despite the individual's refusal and the human race will inevitably enter the super conscious life.

Here again, one needs to ask: is this the hope of which the Gospels speak, or even the "conspiracy of hope" of which a Silone speaks in his novels? Is this a legitimate extrapolation of Christian revelation to a modern context, or merely an "inspired guess which has built on a mystique of hope in the future," to borrow from De Lubac. It is intriguing that the word for faith in Hebrew literally means "hope in the future."

However, as someone thoroughly grounded in Christian Humanism De Lubac does point out that the enthusiasm of the Theilhardians to appear super moderns has blinded them to two crucial facts: 1) that De Chardin is not the great revolutionary that he thought himself to be, and 2) that he tends too much to black and white schematizations and a rather naïve polarization of the "yesterday" and the "tomorrow." Which is to say that he is a bit too complacent with his own originality and never fully achieves that merging of the antiqua and the nova, the yesterday and the tomorrow which is a sine qua non of a genuine novantiqua Christian cultural paradigm. However, despite these apparent flaws, De Chardin remains even today one of the foremost advocates of a Christian humanistic view of man’s destiny. It is up to us, the new millenarians to build on it, perhaps even rethink and revise that vision. After all, that is and will remain man’s duty and enterprise within time and space till the reaching of the Omega Point.

“The Great Story”: Thomas Berry’s Vision of the Earth’s Journey:
“The Universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects”

The above statement by Thomas Berry (1914-2009) conveys in a nutshell, to those who have never heard of him, the humanistic personalistic philosophy of the late Thomas Berry; a visionary voice which follows-up and complements in varied ways De Chardin’s humanistic thought; a voice deserving to be better known and appreciated in our times of ecological, economic and moral crisis. Indeed, his is a voice that can provide us with the vision and the hope that is so sorely missing in our bankrupt political milieu, if we would only harken to it.

I personally met Thomas Berry at a New York convention of contributors to the philosophical-theological journal Cross Currents in 1976. At the time he was still in his early 60s and was the director of the Riverdale Center of Religious Research and was teaching at Fordham University. I was immediately struck by the gentleness, intelligence and kindness of his face and his humble low-key demeanor. I must have talked to him for no more than twenty minutes but enough to leave me astonished at his deep erudition.  In the short span of that conversation it also transpired that we had a common passionate interest in the philosophy of Giambattista Vico. Thomas Berry had in fact written his doctoral dissertation way back in 1949 at The Catholic University of America on Giambattista Vico titled: “The Historical Theory of Giambattista Vico,” barely a year after the first authoritative and very good translation of Vico by Fish and Bergin had come out in the US as published by Cornell University Press. 

After that providential encounter, I would stay abreast of Berry’s intellectual development and would pick up any book that he wrote.  I remember reading with fascination a special edition of Cross Currents which prominently displayed Berry’s research into native American spirituality. Eventually, I too ended up writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Vico at Yale University in the early 80s. Some of those books will be briefly described below. I have always considered him an intellectual giant of our times often underrated, as a kindred spirit to Teilhard de Chardin with whom he shared many theological-philosophical concerns on the fate of the Earth.

But before commenting on some of those books let me first offer some biographical notes: Thomas Berry was born in Greensboro, North Carolina where he spent his early childhood and where he returned when he was 80. It was there that he died peacefully on June 1, 2009 at the ripe old age of 94. Named William Nathan after his father he was the third child of thirteen. He entered the Passionist Order in high school and upon ordination he took the name Thomas after Thomas Aquinas whose Summa Theologica he admired. As already mentioned, he received his Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America in European intellectual history with a thesis on Giambattista Vico.  Thereupon he also spent many years studying and teaching the cultures and religions of Asia. He lived in China in 1948 where he met the Asian scholar and Confucian specialist, Ted de Bary. Their collaboration led to the founding of the Asian Thought and Religion Seminar at Columbia. Thomas Berry has authored two books on Asian religions, Buddhism and Religions of India, both of which are distributed by Columbia University Press. From 1975-1987 he was President of the American Teilhard Association, and it was in fact from Teilhard de Chardin that he was inspired to develop his idea of a universe story. With Brian Swimme he wrote The Universe Story (Harper San Francisco, 1992), which arose from a decade of collaborative research. The brief list below of some of his publications will give the reader an idea of why Thomas Berry is considered a great advocate of the Earth while at the same time being a noted cultural historian whose roots are to be found in Vico’s philosophy of history, and why moreover  his teaching and writings have inspired a generation of eminent scholars thinking about humankind's place in the Earth community and the universe, thus engendering widespread critical acclaim and a documentary film on his life and work.

His major contributions to the discussions on the environment are in his books The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1998), The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (Random House/Bell Towers, 1999), and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (Sierra Club/University of California Press, 2006). His final two books focusing on world religions and on Christianity were published in September 2009: The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Columbia University Press and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth by Orbis Books. The Great Story is a 50 minute documentary film for educational venues and public broadcast portraying the life and work of  Berry. The film displays the beauty of the natural world as Berry tells the story of the universe emergence and highlights the critical environmental crisis we are currently facing. Journey of the Universe, a Feature Length Documentary Film Coming in 2011 and to which many are looking forward. And here are sundry commentaries on some of those books, listed in chronological order:

Dream of the Earth, published by: Sierra Club, September 1988. This is a landmark work which has by now established itself as a foundational volume in the ecological canon. In it Berry provides nothing less than a new intellectual-ethical framework for the human community by positing planetary well-being as the measure of all human activity. Drawing on the wisdom of Western philosophy, Asian thought, and Native American traditions, as well as contemporary physics and evolutionary biology, Berry offers a new perspective that recasts our understanding of science, technology, politics, religion, ecology, and education. He shows us why it is important for us to respond to the Earth's need for planetary renewal, and what we must do to break free of the "technological trance" that drives a misguided dream of progress. Only then, he suggests, can we foster mutually enhancing human-Earth relationships that can heal our traumatized global bio-system.

The Universe Story (with Brian Swimme) Published by: Harper San Francisco, March 1994. Physicist Brian Swimme together with Thomas Berry fashion a new cosmology from the "Primordial Flaring Forth" at the beginning of time through the successive stages of the universe culminating with the emergence of consciousness.

The Great Work
Published by: Harmony/Bell Tower, November 2000. Here Berry explains that the future can exist only if humans understand how to commune with the natural world rather than exploit it. Says he that "Already the planet is so damaged and the future is so challenged by its rising human population that the terms of survival will be severe beyond anything we have known in the past."

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. Edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker. Published by: Sierra Club with The University of California Press, October 2006. This  collection of essays, from various years and occasions, expands and deepens ideas articulated in his earlier writings and also breaks new ground. Here Berry opens our eyes to the full dimensions of the ecological crisis, framing it as a crisis of spiritual vision. Applying his formidable erudition in cultural history, science, and comparative religions, he forges a compelling narrative of creation and communion that reconciles modern evolutionary thinking and traditional religious insights concerning our integral role in Earth's society. While sounding an urgent alarm at our current dilemma, Berry inspires us to reclaim our role as the consciousness of the universe and thereby begin to create a true partnership with the Earth community.

The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the 21st Century. Edited and with a foreword by Mary Evelyn Tucker. Published by: Columbia University Press, September 2009. This series of essays represents a powerful commentary on some of the key issues facing religions in the 21st century. Ranging from the enduring problem of human alienation to future forms of religious experience the book covers a wide spectrum of religious issues. Here Berry, as a leading scholar of the world’s religions, reveals his immense erudition. Composed over some four decades, the essays illustrate Berry’s early understanding of the need for interreligious dialogue and the study of other religions. In addition, Berry’s prophetic insight regarding the rampant destruction of Earth’s ecosystems and extinction of species is evident. These essays illustrate his passionate concern for the fate of Earth and of future generations. They are a timely and urgent call for the world’s religions to respond to this growing ecological crisis. His special insight into the need for a new story of universe and Earth emergence is one of his unique contributions to situating the role of the human in the 21st century.

The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth. Edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim
Published by: Orbis Books, September 2009. Here Berry’s prophetic voice on the environmental crisis, calls on Christians to respond to this global crisis with utmost urgency and with a unified sense of the sacred community of life. These essays represent his most comprehensive reflections  on the role of Christianity in our times. Berry challenges Christians to respond to the growing environmental crisis. He asks boldly why Christians have not been more consistently concerned about the destruction of ecosystems, the loss of species, and the fate of future generations. In powerful and poetic language he presents a compelling vision of the sacredness of the universe and the interrelatedness of the Earth community. Drawing on Thomas Aquinas and Teilhard de Chardin and Vico he brings the Christian tradition into a cosmology of care for the whole of creation. Indeed, few other Christian thinkers in the present century have raised such a prophetic voice regarding Earth’s destruction and the urgent need for human response. These essays are Berry’s signature statement on the interconnectedness of both Earth’s future and the Christian future. Berry calls for both Christian theology and liturgy to open up for reflection on this issue. He makes important correlations between some of his key ecological insights and Christian doctrine, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Christology. He observes that some ecological movements are emerging within Christian communities, especially among religious women. The epilogue is his signature statement on the comprehensive new role of the human in responding to the environmental challenge.

The Awakening Universe. Based on Berry’s and Swimme’s  book The Universe Story, this inspiring 15 minute film takes one on a journey, from the birth of the Universe, through the arising of galaxies, the formation of the Earth, the emergence of life and finally to the development of human consciousness. It includes a 40 minute interview with Brian Swimme.

In conclusion, I invite all perceptive readers who are aware of the ominous implications of the ecological crisis for our civilization, and indeed for our mother Earth, to explore this fascinating spiritual prophetic and visionary voice of our times, for Thomas Berry is the beacon light that can guide us home.

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2

What is Africa to Humankind, and Why are we Here?
A Presentation by Abigail George

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I write this as an African feminist.

Today Africa is a new world. When I talk about Africa, I feel and think many things about our collective history and culture, our religion, my faith, nature, climate change and the environment. As fast as the advent of technology is changing so is the African continent. When you talk of Africa these days all you can think of is the emerging and established writers coming out of her belly.

When it comes to politics, I think of Julius Malema for one, daddy for another playing at politics during the heights of apartheid who learned about invisible ink alongside other members of his political cell. I think of George Botha who fell to his death in an apparent suicide after being picked up by the Special Branch during apartheid.

When I think of Africa, I think of it first in a South African context. I think of Port Elizabeth. Daddy graduating from Rhodes, the University of the Western Cape, the University of London, and the University of South Africa. I think of the legacies of playwright Athol Fugard and the Serpent Players, Port Elizabeth poets (Mzi Mahola, Mxolisi Nyezwa).

I think of people not only as a tribe, but also as a community. I write for the near wasted generation in the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth. Writing is an art form but it is also a form of propaganda. When I think of South Africa, I think of politicians (ex-president Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa, Chris Hani, and Thuli Madonsela).

I think of South African writers, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. I think of people who are contributing to the arts in Africa but largely South Africa and if they, people are contributing to the arts then they are contributing to the world at large. When I think of Africa, I am always thinking either politically or as an artist, a poet and a writer.

You cannot be an artist without revising history, without making reality surreal, without believing in what the politician is telling you, or making a mockery of society, exposing violence and brutality. I think of gravity. I think of the people who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. We are living in a world of social media, the flux of the social network.

We are living in a world filled with brilliant minds. People are changing the way we view the world. People are changing perspectives. We are transforming the way we think and the way we raise our families but we are also a people whose lives are filled with suffering, humiliation, sadness, emptiness, and who simply fear the power of words. Why fear the power of words?

We fear the power of words because it speaks to us at a grassroots level. It communicates trauma to us. Either the trauma we witnessed, that we experienced in childhood, as young adults, as grownups. It communicates pain to us. It reminds us of loneliness, and solitude. It makes us ask ourselves difficult questions. Did we love our children enough?

I have lived with regret. I have regrets and now it is too late to turn the clock back? We all want self-esteem. Why did I have to live with loss, of losing a loved one before it was their time? I never deserved to live with being damaged or to live in poverty, difficult circumstances, with craziness; a terminal illness like breast cancer in the family, infertility and most all humanity asks themselves this question.

I never deserved to live without love. Death and the shortness of life reminds us that when it comes down to it the one thing that is keeping us alive is breath. What is the modern human speaking from in the context of an artist writing in the life and times? To me, humanity is political. An African is political. An African woman who calls herself a feminist.

Africa is political, that has not changed. To me Africa is a village. One. This place is my home. Two. There is, and always has been an almost holy mystique to Africa. Africa with her mysterious nature is surrounded by the weight of water, fragments of squalor, illness. I would not like to analyse human nature too much. To touch the bare necessities of life is to touch God.

Life can be bitter. It can be wasted. It can also be sweet. We want to destroy ourselves. We want to sabotage ourselves but we are survivors. Against all odds, humanity has survived.  Also the ideas that Africans for centuries have been beasts, savages and slaves; warriors who have fought in wars for land and women have been submissive creatures.

We have to ask ourselves why this has always been so. Why the world has been attuned to the negative, to that school of thought. Still is. The world is attuned to racism, isolating and rejecting the Outsider. We have a lot to be grateful for, for people who are dedicating their lives to the arts. Why is it that for so long Africa and the African has been the Outsider?

There is a plague out there in media. Alongside the plague of doves is a plague of beasts, of savages, of emergency services. Can a woman be a beast, be a savage when she dances, when she smiles, when she discovers that her life is precious to the children that she has brought into the world? Man and woman with their souls keep moving, going in the direction of the journey that has been put out for them in the stars.

As I write this, the silence in this space becomes much more significant than birdsong, fractured wind, and life found in nature, rising to meet humanity, the windows of my soul. For every reality was modern once upon a time. I write to get rid of the valleys, to lose the thread of the satellite of mourning. See, I realise how alien I am in this environment. This is my survival kit.

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II
Creative Writing
A Confession: Why I Write
By Abigail George

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My sister has the paper tiger empress down to an art.

I have embraced the physical art of suffering. I have surrendered to the primitive, the ancestral, the universal, and the totem. I am the clever experiment. Driftwood in my hands. Exposure to a wilderness in my head. Darkness invisible is the land that borders on God. I long for the roar of the sea, zoo pretty, lush with its stone voice. In the sea, my body becomes creative amidst the ultra-violence of the waves.

Every impulse is recognised. Like a footstep on cobblestones or gravel. To me the sea is sacred. It has always been a sacred mystery to me since childhood. Salt cells in my hair. Light shining through me like a lighthouse. I am little but I am also tall. I am brown but I am also poetry. Waves in motion. The sun in motion.

There I am breathing in salt and light until my feet no longer tread land. I begin to forget female writing, becoming Virginia Woolf, how lonely the house is now without the sounds of my mother moving around the rooms. There is just empty space. Where there is empty space there is also faith and loyalties, religion, a church, prayer, and spirituality.

My father and I have built those foundations. There are powerful forces in mothers. Although they have never experienced their children’s pain, they feel it. As if, they have gone through it themselves.  I felt something shift inside of me. For the first time truth is illuminated. Everything begins to blossom around me. I took my pills this morning and dressed.

I waited for the world to show up. I waited for grief too, and anxiety to show up and make waves. I was patient. Too kind for words. I had to be in order to survive. I had an idea of a river of dust, of privacy, of shelter, isolation, personal space and unquiet bleeding. A woman’s unseen bleeding. There were parts of me that understood that life was precious.

There were also parts of me that understood that life was wild and free. It inspired people, not only writers. It made you feel electric and it was an insane trip. A rollercoaster ride. I am damaged. There, I said it. I brought it to life in this world like Frankenstein. Other people, worldly or spiritual are damaged too. Other people like me are also mentally ill.

Other people are also beautiful shadows swinging from the chandeliers. Other people also have visions of being neglected, and abandoned. I have put all my thirst and my longing onto a page. I have to erase it somehow. The lonely hunter within me hints at diminishing its powerful hold over me.

‘You are my disabled sister.’ She said on the telephone. Her voice was cool. It did not matter to me. Her voice was always winter. An asylum. This was how I lived now. With disability. It was not a tragic affair. I had built up my intuition, the psychic pathways to my third eye. My sister was my Hiroshima. Fat Boy. Little Man. We were no longer playing at Little Women.

I have always believed though that I had the qualities of a young mother. I remember sticky fruit in the hands of children, soup and bread, apartheid South Africa when I could not play on the swings or else my father would be arrested. To me there was always a ballad in everything. I remember how we made a Noah’s ark, and Jonah’s whale out of a fruit tree. A mulberry tree.

It stained the clothes on the line as it stains my heart now. Trees chaperone the garden now. My sister works in a bank. My mother busies herself with spiritual meetings, and her garden. She does not see me. I am invisible to both. Politics can crush you especially the politics in family life. Humanity will survive. Humanity will continue to dream, have those visions.

I believe in suffering, longing and thirst. It is a product of my childhood. I believe other children, and other adults are products of their childhood too. I have believed in it since childhood. The wounding of my heart started early for me. The early loss of innocence separated me from other girls and boys all through my early life. Those formative years.

So for a long while in my life there was spiritual poverty. I had a great father though who gave me everything. Books and culture. He shared his passions with me and I told him the secrets of my soul. Girls need mothers like fish need to live and breathe in the ocean. Daughters need their fathers too.

When people abandon you, when people neglect you, you end up in a bad way, in an anguished and terrible shape. You will either become phenomenal. A phenomenal success or a failure. You will either just completely waste away as an adult or contribute nothing to the world. You will never learn to love or you will change the world. You will learn to save yourself.

You will learn what family, being part of the world at large and humanity really means. I had been deprived my whole life of this beautiful and elegant woman who was also an elegant and beautiful monster. Abuse shattered me. Night and day, was a voyage into dark but it taught me how to become ambitious? It taught me to become a modern girl.

It taught me how to spread my wings out and fly. It taught me to harvest tunnel vision, set goals for myself, dream, and to reach for the sun, that brilliant, brilliant light, the moon and my dark side. A child has lovely bones. When they say their first words or discover something novel, they enchant.

I wanted her to dedicate her life to me but she had work, two other children and a manic-depressive for a husband. She had the emotions of a wife. Chef, lover, teacher, mentor, tennis player, sister.  She was a wife in apartheid South Africa and continued to be a wife and a mother in post-apartheid South Africa. She planted rosebushes. She lived. She loved with grace, mercy.

She baked but it was never for me. The modern human, be it the child prodigy, the gifted, the genius, the writer, the poet, the artist as the Outsider, all have suffered for their art. Their intelligence is elegant. For women the illusion is this, that we are the sum of our experiences, that we live in order to die, that to make sense of the world we must be educated.

Empowered and uplifted by the opposite sex, and the sexual transaction. The divine wonder that illuminates the world around us knits our brain cells and us together. Man creates. Through his creation he dominates. In our dreams comes the journey, the invisible monsters, and the fork in the road, the music, and the footsteps in the dark, imagination, what we worship.

The imaginary waves, the hallucination, the surreal, reality, the painted blurred lines, and the mental drum. The truth that exists for me is not the same that exists for you. Inside of Africa and outside of Africa. What does it mean to be human? What does the word humanity mean and how does it transform us, our view of the world, our thinking, our perspective on illness?

I can see the glare of the light now. At the end of the day, my father puts me back together again. It is his voice that I hear and that of my ‘second mother’. Magda Dumont. I have been deprived, homeless, lived in a shelter with other women who have also been deprived, homeless and have gone on living from shelter to shelter. I have been a wreck. I have been ‘shipwrecked’.

I have been to the lighthouse and back. I have been dashed against those rocks. I have been a ghost, told those ghost stories and come back furiously to life after being comaed. The veil of illness has begun to branch out into my body, that mental switch. Humanity has a body of fire, so does Africa, and the phoenix.

The flame of mental illness and disability licks that mental switch. To love is give something of your spirit, your soul away. Why did you not love me mummy? The physical me has been counselled, but what clinical psychologists seem to understand really well is textbook knowledge but not the day-to-day lifestyle of mental illness or suicidal depression.

The potential that humanity has for forgiveness is the same potential we have for being kind beings. It should not be alien to us, but for some it is alien. As much as I am baffled by, the expectations that society places on a woman by the world that she lives in, the pressure that they put on women not to call themselves feminists, or to even play that role.

To get no kind of certain pleasure out of life is difficult. Humanity is not perfect. It seems as if all the negatives have a perfect timing. They seem to weigh in over the decisions that God has in mind for us mostly leaving us building up the furious, those brick walls inside of us. Sorrow is nothing. War studies, battling stress, overcoming the limits of man and womankind.

Studying, observing love is pure. All love is meant to be pure. When I read, read anything from books to opinion, to essays, to short stories it is funny that I do not feel that isolation from my mother, the woman who struggled to bring me into this world, who waited five years for a baby, who went from doctor to doctor seeking a cure for infertility.

To realise that you are not accepted for whom you are, to gain no approval from loved ones because of illness has grief written all over it. I have a message. It is simple.  Live with a force of human nature even though you are broken. Live as if that is your greatest intention. Your obsession. Your knowledge is powerful. Invent yourself again. Reinvent earth. Its textures.

The universe is there for the taking. In the end, as it has always nurtured humanity, the broken, it will and can nurture you. Your knowledge of prayer and your knowledge of fear. You cannot have one without the other. I have not found a cure for illness yet or disability. The closest that I have come to it is this. Laughter and being a daughter. Being caring. Being a poet and a writer.

I am carving out a place in the world for me, a future to live, a gifting, and in kind, I must serve to deserve others. It is a desert out there made out of ancient dust. The sun has baked that earth for centuries. Cacti has made it their home out there. The ground is not fertile not even for germs but when the rains come as they must come; memory and desire are washed away.

I will remember birthdays, Christmases, Easters, telephone calls made collect, Tara, Hunterscraig, relapse and recovery into oblivion with my hair splitting at the ends, running out of shampoo, and other women’s necessary things if you know what I mean. I was trying to live. I promise. I was trying to live. My brain pulp. It was in need of medicine. Yes, pharmaceuticals.

Can you feel it hanging in the air? Nerves. Nerve. It is there like language and mother tongue.

I breathe in the shape of aloes, that green feast. I breathe in lessons of despair and isolation. Am I not Antigone’s representative? Her disciple?

Dance with me as I write these words now. I will cha-cha it out of my system. I remember the lightness of youth so pure, so pure in girls and boys, but not me. In the heat of adolescence, I was left standing, carrion, and carrion, viewed the world from a foetal position, and cooked those meat and potatoes until there was nothing left of the meat but a dry hiss, a grandmother’s kiss. I remember that house. My grandmother’s kitchen. Sitting at her kitchen table and eating wisdom. Not getting enough of what my father grew up on. I remember solitude as if I remember the playing fields of an adolescent. I dream to the beat of haiku. Her hands smelled of camphor. This memory is precious to me. Grandmothers are always precious in the eyes of their grandchildren.

This world dazzles me. The world of the father and the daughter. It has a rich tapestry. God is woven into the details, and so is the gene pool of creativity. The outside world is disturbing to me. If I grab a hold of it, it will surely mean the death of me. This journal is my handbook. This notebook is worth its weight in gold. I am going for glory. I need new shoes. Shoes that do not pinch my feet. It is summer. I will need sandals. I need love like I need an appendectomy scar. What is it, what is love if you have never received it? What is wrong with me? Sorrow wounds me. Can you of all people understand that? Can you get to grips with that?

There is an art to experiencing life. You take the sweetness of it all. You take the sweetness of the wasteland, the history wilderness, the shape and landscape of it all. You drink it in. It is ritual. At the heart of it, that is what experience is. A ritual. A rite of passage. I am not finished with earth yet, with the material, with the observations of possessions, with the elegant stories that I keep on brushing up against. People have hurt me. The world has hurt me but still I go on living. Not dancing but living in a way that is against other people’s ideas of what it means to be alive. To be authentic is a savage way of life. I prefer stories to the wild measures of love.

Do you pray? I pray. Do you meditate? I meditate. Do you believe in yourself? I believe in myself. It must be why I am still here. The house is big. The television is in one room. Other rooms are filled with books. There are three studies. There is an office space. I had a childhood. Now I have another childhood. A grown up wonderland except instead of a rabbit I have ghost stories. I voyage up and down the house.  I sail, brush against the cool walls, open my hands to receive what cool opportunities the world has for me in the form of canned fruit, the pomegranate and other fruit trees. It is a palace out there for the taking, but there is also blood.

I am not buying into that though. My history is beautiful. It is amongst the most beautiful things that I won in the end, and that I possess. There is pain there on that painted pilgrimage, suffering too. I have hid medicine there. It has a muscle called rejuvenation. People have called me by many names. In the end, what are tears good for? It has fed this eagle. I have fallen into the darkness of society. I have also seen the light. It is brilliant if you wait long enough for the afternoon sun, and when it hits your eyes it will hurt. You will be reminded, of everything that you have lost but also gained in the run for guarded illumination.

Soil erosion reminds me of something being loosed into the wild nature of things. Solitude is wasted on the young. They do not want to think or spend their time with books. Things of that kind of nature bores them, those machines would prefer being smashed out of their heads on a Saturday night with the warmth, the pressure of the body of the opposite sex against them. No love story there. If I had grown up like that no doubt I would be an alcoholic in recovery by now. My mother is leaving us. My father, daddy, and I am to take care of him while she splits.

She will come back. Back to her garden, her house, her ‘other’ life (meaning spiritual). My sister lives in the big city. A Johannesburg kind of big city. Her bones are not kind. Her mind, tone of her voice, her attitude. She sits on a throne at a bank. She runs marathons. She treats her dogs as if they were her children. She has buried me, cut the heads off the daisies to show me that she is what this world desires. She is what this world calls woman, beautiful, independent, and career-minded. I am disabled and with disability comes illness, isolation, despair and hardship. She is dangerous. I never had those wings. Never lived in an otherworldly place. People tell me stories. They think I am a ghost. They think I feel nothing when they smirk.

These people do not remember that once I too was a young woman. A young woman with sun in her hair. Once upon a time, a man took me in his arms. Perhaps there was a union there. I am not a woman to her. My sister is no church Christian. She thinks she is cultured and educated. She has won over my mother, that glittering prize. I am wise. In this picture, I am the shaman. I sing the blues. Inside something is scattered though. Must be my heart. There is ice growing, growing in my lungs (yes, there are days when it is difficult to breathe and to realise that I am not wanted, that I have wasted my life loving and wanting difficult people.

People who have watered gardens and watched them grow. Like water in wild places, unaccustomed to being swam in by young children with growing limbs, pleasure, excitement, elated galore, I remember my mother feeding me soup in childhood. I remember how obediently I opened up my mouth and how I received that nourishing warmth. I remember how beautiful her hands were and her wedding ring and how that morning she had braided my hair. Twisting it into a plait as if she was kneading bread before we both watched it tentatively rise after putting yeast in. I stood next to her on tiptoe. She stood clicking her heels on the tiled floor in the kitchen.

‘Magic see.’ she would say.

‘Magic.’ I would say after her.

Afterwards I lost the magic. Somewhere I lost the magic. She writes. I am lonely. The world is full of people but somehow I have lost my head, and my way home and I am on a downward spiral. I am afraid I can no longer lie and walk with my chin up. The world does not feel as if it is full of possibilities for me anymore. I have met all the people I have wanted to. All my dreams have come true. Nobody truly loves genius. If they tell you that they do, they are in fact lying to you. Does humanity appreciate genius? No. Do they respect or admire it? No, I really do not think so.

They want it for themselves especially those who watch true leaders from a distance. I am sad. She writes. Whom is she writing to reach her? The Magi. I have no one to talk to me, to find me interesting, elegant and intelligent but I have the world at my feet.  I am my father’s brilliant chef, his nurse, his confidante, his companion, and his daughter. The house. This house. It smells like chicken. To me houses smell of kitchens, that or burnt pots, rubbish food or chicken. The innocence left behind of a childhood kitchen is almost enough to move me to tears. Did chicken smell the same in apartheid South Africa, the wuthering heights of apartheid South Africa and now post-apartheid South Africa?

I am reminded that I am my father’s daughter. That I am not built for that. To be every spoonful of a delicate dessert in the mouths of the liberals. The best I can hope for is a ghost story, becoming Woolf. Days pass and it just my father and I pottering around the house. Rooms empty. I explore them as if I am a child again with glee. I take an online test. At the end of answering a list of questions, it tells me that I am an eagle. I am experiencing childhood all over again. As if, I am playing with my dolls again or rummy with my adoring boy cousins all much older than I am. Always in high spirits. Those good-looking healthy specimens.

Rain clouds my mind. She says to her father. His eyes are closed. He is sleeping but she has no one else to talk to her. This is how she passes her almost-comaed days. How do I write? Am I a good writer? I am a terrible writer. A liar, a failure, a front, a faker, a poser, and an actor. Give it to me straight world. I am what I am because I am a product of my own miserable life, my actions, and the choices that I have made and had to live with. I am not here to get along with people. In all my years, I have never got along with people. 

I am the lone wolf, the loner, the Outsider. Earth is beautiful but to me it is one helluva of a hallucination. Surreal, imaginative, the real somewhat diminished, humanity evaporated at every turn. My father and I used to go for long walks. She writes. We walked around the church, next to the highway until we reached the local garage.  My father would go inside and use the rest room while I waited for him. The cashiers would watch us grimly. I would turn my head and look away if I caught their gaze. I would look at the specials; look at the pretty packaging and think of how my mother disowned me because I was not ‘a proper woman’.

Too much, like your father. She would say. I think she would say it in an angry way and in a way, she was much more angry with herself than at me I would ponder. There had never been any success in the relationships I had with people. With the opposite sex in particular. Women, girls never held me in high esteem. Everything I know, my education started at my father’s knee. I never had the caring, overly protective, nurturer of a mother. I am dying inside but I do not say anything. If I did, it would pretty much be over for me. It would mean tickets. She writes sucking on the end of her pen. Pleased with the dark smudge on the page. Wet ink.

Almost as if, it was a kind of symbol for her mood. Her thick slice of bread with butter. My mother will not take pictures with me. There is a lump in her throat now. There are butterflies in her stomach. My mother. My mother. My mother. She writes in quick succession. The woman who gave me life disregards me now as if I do not live. As if, I do not exist. All around me now, the scent of tragic innocence, an air of disgrace, circles of values and principles, perspectives and views of the world. I dance madly to the beat of my own African drum. A drum of my own making. I am a feminist. Are you proud of me mummy? Tea please, daddy.

Winter trees wet with the cold. Watch nature’s bride. Watch the leaves merry dance on the ground, in the air, swimming, swimming mournfully in gutters. Heaven can wait. Paradise too but she thinks to herself that they mean the same thing. She writes in her journal. Everybody says she is wise. She is the writer. She is the poet. She is the fundi, the woman of letters, and the woman who reads books but who also unfortunately cannot create life, placenta, a baby’s patella, and mitochondria. There are other women in the family who can do this. Family, women who are not afraid of the world who live in America.

The land of milk and honey, rick and thick. Other women can do this in the family. Bring life into the world. Indian women who live in crime-ridden Johannesburg, women who live in New Zealand, Swaziland. Ice makes a journal. Broth. Daddy’s infirm body curled up under blankets like a cat. Mum is gone. It is just her way. My sister the extraordinary machine is gone. It is just her way.

There is no love story for me, no perks, just a wasteland of steaks and grease, just endless days that seem to stretch out into a blue nothing. You can feel it good on some days. Peace. Peace of mind. On other days, it feels hard to live just getting by on the basics.  Foodstuffs and nothing else. If it were not for the pharmaceuticals, I would drink. I would be a coward; I would be the worst possible mother in the world. I would not feed my children. I would abandon those kids I created. I promise you this. So thank the stars that I cannot conceive. Infertility is written into my chromosomes.

Woven like a tapestry. Information on overload. You see outsiders can break you. They can break your spirit but your family are the worst. They can stab you in the back, walk away, do heinous things behind your back and you will still have to allow them to come back into your life. Truth is stranger than fiction. They can sabotage you and destroy you.

They will laugh and smile in your face while you cower in fear in front of them. Vulnerable as a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car, knowing that the life is soon going to be crushed out of it. Before I came home, I needed to know that I was not alone. It was just another winter for me. An uninvited winter. A blood knot. I can hear the shrill malice in my mother’s voice. Her voice is tap dancing on my bones. My skull. Her nervous, anxious energy becomes my nervous and anxious energy. I wanted to be sheltered with my whole heart but perhaps I never gave enough of myself as a child. She writes down a conversation. 

She has potbellied conversations in her head and it goes mostly something like this. Always the same conversation because for three weeks now there has only been two inhabitants in the house. There is a rising up of fat aloes filled with sap. A father and a daughter. An old man and a watchful-eyed daughter, ever-present. This is what lies beneath a house. The winter revisited of a bride and a groom. Trauma, tears at the root of it all. There is even beauty, imagination and wonder to be found in the upright stem of hurt. Parents hurt when their children hurt. Sorrow turns its head. Says it is the wise river, the meek lamb.

Mother, daughters, and sisters. There is a burning sensation. A flame. Smoke rises up to meet me. Them and me. Always in this, little, little fight club. Are they your entourage, these pillars, these two people selling neon? You can heal broken bones. Cancer goes into remission but what about the song and dance of clinical depression. What about the ammunition that a hypomania carries? Look at me. Help me to help you. Help me to help myself. Daddy is a gift. My sister’s mouth is moist. My mother’s is made of frost. Still I write. There are powerful laws in this world that govern writing, nature, brides, and the glare of light. Simply pay attention.

Broken, wasted, searching, and living with a kind of useless mentality that I have yet to come to grips with completely. I know this, that close-knit families pollute my fractured mind, identity and ego. This knowledge makes me more productive.  It is like porridge to me. Manna. Family and friendship means nothing to me like land and lasagna, ownership and oats, property and the dark meat and potatoes, if you decide to treat me badly or to nurture me that is human nature. It means nothing to me. I kept showing up but unfortunately, nobody else did. In my case, blood was not thicker than water. I want perfection. Every writer wants perfection. I want family but have been disinherited like that Monaco princess. Every writer wants a home, wants a family.

Every poet wants to bring the chaos and disorder in the world, that maelstrom to a complete halt. Everybody wants to bang their drum, have their cake, and eat it too. Is the rain as lonely as I am? Including the people who live on those prairies where Native Americans once lived alongside totems and shamanic wisdom. Everything in life is a gift including your enemies, your parents, your siblings, your estranged family, and the black sheep in the family. Are mountains lonely? The valleys, the instructions to the mouth of the river of where it all began, of home, of the family wilderness.

Her roses are invincible, the middle child in the photograph (is it because I am not pretty, is it because of the disability, the unworldly illness). I am not brave enough to dance alone. To be that queen, the queen of the revolution from within, to stop the echo of the ego from vibrating from within. There is the unbearable lightness. Dream with me.

 sym78

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 END  OF 40th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (4/12/2014)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -

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